Tuesday 28 September 2010, 15:19
Over the next few days hundreds of visitors, American mainly but possibly European as well, will be flying into Heathrow Airport and then heading west to watch this year's Ryder Cup golf matches at the Celtic Manor. Many of them won't give the scenery even a second glance as they hurry towards the Celtic Manor but, should they decide to look up and scan the view outside the windows of their car or bus, there is a world of fascinating history out there waiting to greet them.
Let's start with Heathrow itself. Now the world's busiest airport - planes land or take off, on average, once every 90 seconds - this was originally an airfield created for the Royal Flying Corps (forerunner of the RAF) in 1916. The airfield was transferred to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in 1946 and, strange to say when you hurry through any one of the present five terminals, it is amusing to remember that the original passenger terminal here was situated in a tent!
Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world.
Heading west down the M4 motorway, look out for Windsor Castle on your left just after the town of Slough. The castle is dominated by the Round Tower, one of the finest in Europe. It is worth remembering that this once powerful military stronghold has now been converted into a royal residence so watch out for the royal standard flying above the castle. If it's there the Queen is in residence.
Between Slough and Reading you will see several old gravel pits, on both sides of the motorway. Originally the source for beds of highly valuable gravel and sand these excavated pits are now boating/water sport lakes and, of course, are also home to a wide range of wildlife.
You cannot see Reading from the M4 but if you wish to take a little time out of your journey look out for Reading Gaol. This impressive red brick building was where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated at the end of the 19th century and was where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
Red Dragon steam engine is one of the engines that can be seen at STEAM Museum of the Great Western Railway.
Both Didcot and Swindon - they will require a short detour - are old railway centres and both house excellent railway museums. Swindon was once home to the largest railway works on the Great Western Railway - by 1920 it was employing 14,000 men and women, building carriages and repairing engines. The works have long since been closed but the Steam Museum is well worth a visit.
You might be lucky as you travel westwards. Look to your left just before the turning for Calne and see if you can spot an RAF Hercules doing 'circuits and bumps' on the aerodrome at RAF Lyneham. You can't see the airfield as it sits behind a high ridge but the aircraft are nearly always there, flying parallel to the motorway and then disappearing gracefully from view behind the hill.
Heading on into Wales, the city of Bristol lies on your left. As you crest the hill above the low flat plain of the River Severn a magical view awaits you. The river is wide here - perhaps as much as a mile - and the two Severn Bridges, the first one to your right, the second to your left, sit in regal solemnity ahead of you. There is a choice to be made - which route do you take?
If you choose the old or original bridge, now carrying the M48 rather than the M4, you can stop off in Chepstow and take a quick look at the town's magnificent Norman castle. Founded by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford, in about 1067, Chepstow Castle has the distinction of being the first stone-built castle in Britain. It has a perfect situation, high above the river and what used to be a tidal harbour - virtually impregnable. The town itself is a pretty little border settlement set on the side of the steep hill.
Second Severn crossing. Photo by Jim Clune.
The newer bridge is more functional. It was opened in 1996 and is so constructed as to remain open whatever the strength of the wind howling up the Estuary - which is more than can be said of the original bridge.
And so on to Newport. Celtic Manor sits high above the motorway, dominating the road and the way in. Look to your right just before the hotel and you will see one of the three golf courses that the complex boasts. This is not the Ryder Cup course, this is the new Montgomerie Course, designed by Europe's captain - well worth playing if you are staying on once the fate of the Cup has been decided.
Feel free to comment! If you want to have your say, on this or any other BBC blog, you will need to sign in to your BBC iD account. If you don't have a BBC iD account, you can register here - it'll allow you to contribute to a range of BBC sites and services using a single login.
Join the discussion...